Successful bid for NHS e-booking system was nearly double rival bid

A £64.5m contract to build and help run a national electronic booking system for the NHS was nearly double the bid price...

A £64.5m contract to build and help run a national electronic booking system for the NHS was nearly double the bid price submitted by Fujitsu, one of the companies shortlisted for the project.

Computer Weekly has also learned that the £64.5m bid by technology services supplier SchlumbergerSema was about £20m higher than the £44m indicated price submitted by another of the shortlisted suppliers EDS. Fujitsu bid less than £35m.

The choice by the Department of Health of the highest-price bid addresses the criticism made by suppliers in the past that civil servants have tended to award complex contracts on the basis of what appears to be the cheapest tender.

The price of the five-year deal, which was awarded last month, may also provide a marker for the award of other national IT contracts within the NHS. Suppliers have disclosed to Computer Weekly that the contract for the booking system is in effect a master agreement for other deals that will come within the scope of the government's £2.3bn national programme for IT in the NHS.

Tola Sargeant, an analyst with Ovum Holway, said the price of the winning bid probably reflected the level of risk SchlumbergerSema was prepared to take on, and the penalties it was prepared to pay if its booking systems failed to meet expectations.

"The price seems to suggest a balance has been struck between risk and reward," she said, adding that the lowest-price did not always represent the best value for money for the taxpayer.

However, Sargeant said government departments had rarely succeeded in forcing suppliers in default of their commitments to pay large penalties, even if they were written into the contracts.

When, for example, Fujitsu failed to deliver the Libra case management software for magistrates courts, the supplier won a modified, higher-priced contract from civil servants who wanted to avoid the further delays of running a new competitive tender.

The national electronic booking system is one of four main components of the government's national programme for IT, one of the aims of which is to modernise antiquated health service systems.

Once integrated with systems run by GPs, and those of new local service providers to be appointed by the end of this year, SchlumbergerSema's booking software should give patients in England some choice over the date and hospital at which they attend an outpatient appointment.

EDS and Fujitsu declined to comment. A spokesman for the national programme for IT said, "As with any public sector procurement, it is wholly inappropriate for us to discuss competitive bids. Therefore, the national programme for IT cannot go into detailed discussion on the bidding process or evaluation for the electronic booking contract that was awarded to SchlumbergerSema."

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